So as it was, England escaped with their tail between their legs, as a late equaliser spared their blushes, at a less than packed Wembley stadium. Whilst England certainly made enough chances to win the game, they lacked the killer instinct required to kill off the mediocre opposition put in front of them. Whilst Roy Hodgson can take some positives from the performance, there is certainly reason to question Hodgson’s selection and tactics, particularly on the flanks.
The England manager reverted to the same starting eleven that crushed Moldova on Friday night. While there is a cliché in sport of not to change a winning side, it is clear that playing the 141st ranked team in the world, and Ukraine, are completely different propositions altogether.
In spite of Glen Johnson having a relatively successful Euro 2012 campaign, last night’s performance certainly highlighted his flaws. Johnson has been giving the vote of confidence from both former manager, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, but has failed to stamp his authority and make the position his own. He is often caught out of position, needing to make last ditch challenges and interventions which cover up for his lack of spatial awareness.
On the attack, the Liverpool defender can be a joy to behold with his ability to jink past a man and deliver a telling cross or a fierce drive at goal. However, I worry about him in defence. I think Hodgson may do to, hence his decision to play James Milner in front of the former Chelsea man.
There is certainly a claim for going with Kyle Walker ahead of Johnson. Walker had a superb season with Tottenham Hotspur last year and was unlucky to miss out of Euro 2012 through injury. The flying wing back offers extreme pace, ability to deliver a pinpoint cross and the youthful exuberance that Hodgson could certainly do with. Building for World Cup 2014, I would certainly be trying to integrate Walker into the starting eleven as soon as possible.
Other candidates for the role include Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, who have featured in this position for both England and Manchester United. However, currently injured, it is unlikely that they will feature heavily in next month’s qualification games.
Ahead of Johnson last night, was Manchester City utility man, James Milner. Milner’s work rate and team ethic is well known on the circuit. Yet I feel he is certainly quite a defensive option for Hodgson. Milner lacks the pace, trickery and delivery to truly mark his stamp upon a game, and whilst he performs his defensive duties admirably, there are certainly other options open to the England man. I feel that Milner’s selection highlights a lack of trust of Hodgson’s in Glen Johnson’s defensive capabilities and the manager’s scepticism at being caught on the break.
There is certainly a potential for Adam Johnson to make that position his own over the course of this season. Receiving 90 minutes a week at the Stadium of Light, I expect him to shine under the management of Martin O’Neill, who has made a shrewd acquisition. Under Roberto Mancini, the winger’s career failed to develop as would have been hoped. Yet the Middlesborough trainee is far from the raw talent of years before, and with the confidence he will gain under O’Neill, he could become a real handful for Premier League and International defences. Johnson has the X-Factor that few players possess in that he can beat a man, has an eye for a pass and isn’t afraid to take on shots at goal.
Whilst he was missing through injury at Wembley, I’d liked to have seen Daniel Sturridge given a start. Whilst he has been frozen out under Di Matteo, his class is undoubted and we saw glimpses of this in his cameo on Tuesday night. It is a real shame for both Liverpool and Sturridge that they failed in their bid to take the former Manchester City man on a season long loan.